Playoff hopes are not yet dashed for five teams off to slow starts

Can the Kings be a Stanley Cup contender again? (0:54)

Barry Melrose thinks the Kings have the talent and motivation to win the Stanley Cup this season. (0:54)

We often use U.S. Thanksgiving as a bellwether in terms of predicting playoff teams and, more to the point, which teams are already sunk. The gravity of a slow start, even in the early weeks, cannot be overstated.

Last season, only 12.3 percent of the season was in the books at the end of October, and only three of the top 16 teams in the standings at that point would go on to fail to make the playoffs: the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars. Among teams in the bottom 10 at that same point last season, only the 4-6 Winnipeg Jets managed to crawl into the postseason, and they did so as the second wild-card team.

So, what does that mean for the Columbus Blue Jackets or Calgary Flames, who are a combined 1-10 with a collective minus-26 goal differential so far? It might seem like bad news, but I'm here to tell you differently. In fact, some of this season's rocky starts aren't necessarily a barometer of teams' ability to make the postseason tournament.

Here are five teams likely to put a rocky start behind them and wrangle invitations to the playoff ball next spring.

1. Los Angeles Kings: Yes, the Kings looked ugly while dropping their first three games of the season, but let's remember they are still trying to crawl out from an ugly 2014-15 season marred by a number of off-ice incidents. There was lots of soul-searching for the Kings after a season that saw them miss the playoffs after winning two Stanley Cups in the previous three seasons, so maybe we should have expected a hiccup or two.

Add in the introduction of offseason acquisition Milan Lucic to the top line, and it's not a big surprise that the team has looked out of sorts. Still, the Kings have won two in a row entering play Tuesday, and while the offense still isn't cooking, they appear to be back to playing Kings hockey on defense. In other words, look out, Western Conference.

2. Anaheim Ducks: I would have had the Ducks at the top of the list, but given that I picked them to win the Stanley Cup, that would have looked a little self-serving. Maybe too many Ducks were reading preseason press clippings, because the offense sputtered with just with one goal in their first four games (0-3-1). Or maybe it was the challenge of integrating so many new faces, including Chris Stewart, Shawn Horcoff, Carl Hagelin, Kevin Bieksa and Anton Khudobin.

Captain Ryan Getzlaf and star sniper Corey Perry seemed to oversleep on the start of the season, but a solid win over the Minnesota Wild last weekend showed the Ducks as we thought they would be. The Ducks have had trouble closing the deal in the playoffs, losing three straight Game 7s at home, so maybe starting poorly and finishing strong is a good trend.

3. Boston Bruins: Remember last week, when the Claude Julien watch began just three games into the season? Of course you do, and the Bruins did look discombobulated while getting waxed in three straight home games to open the season. They hit the road after that, won two straight and seem much more in sync. This isn't the same Bruins team that won a Cup in 2011 and went back to the finals two years later. Not even close. But it is still a well-coached, offensively deep team that should find itself back in the top eight in the Eastern Conference, assuming relative good health moving forward. A key factor early on? The important response from team leaders David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron in the face of early angst in Boston.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins: Sidney Crosby has zero points in five games to start the season. OK, so that's a bit strange. And Phil Kessel hasn't exactly had the goal light working overtime. But come on, people, it's five games in. For me, the fact that the Penguins were playing solid defense and getting strong goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury, even during their three-game losing streak to start the season, should be a harbinger of good things to come. This team will eventually learn to score. That seems a given. As long as they continue to be difficult to play against in their own zone -- they've allowed just nine goals in their first five games -- they're going to be in the hunt for the Metropolitan Division crown.

5. Calgary Flames: I debated whether to pick the Columbus Blue Jackets here, but couldn't get over the mess they've created during an improbable 0-6 start. Of course, if they do make the playoffs, I'll just claim they were on the list anyway. As for the Flames, they were pegged by many last season as entrants in the Connor McDavid / Jack Eichel sweepstakes. They not only made the playoffs, but beat the Vancouver Canucks in the first round.

This fall, the Flames were a sexy pick to return to the playoffs after acquiring Dougie Hamilton in the offseason and having a healthy Mark Giordano. It hasn't started that way, as the Flames are 1-4 and have allowed 19 goals in five games en route to the very bottom of the Western Conference standings. This is a team with good balance up front, though, and when T.J. Brodie gets back into the lineup, that should restore some of order to the defensive corps.

The key, of course, will be figuring out the goaltending. The Flames had three goalies in camp, and perhaps that was unsettling to veterans Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo, both of whom have been less than sharp in the opening days of the season. Will one ultimately be dispatched? It might take that to fully right the ship, but Flames have enough going on to at least get back on track.